Thursday, December 21, 2006

Foggy

A foggy wet day in Chicago, the kind of day that hides the tops of the tallest buildings, and damn it is dark. I am listening to Xmas in Frisko on somafm.com Internet radio. Edie at Annotated Life turned me onto somafm at the beginning of the year. Many thanks, Edie.

Let’s change the subject from Christmas and the fog for a moment.

One of my great finds in the mathematics category this past year is Tristan Needham’s Visual Complex Analysis. Penrose references it in The Road to Reality. Once I flipped through Needham’s book, I knew I had to have it. It appeals aesthetically like a good poem. I rank it with Spivak’s Calculus on Manifolds. There is nothing like a good math book to erase worldly cares from the mind.

During the Seventeenth century, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, and others turned science into a mathematical discipline. It is a useful thing to do, but it adds to science’s aesthetic appeal also. Once you have introduced mathematics as a fundamental ground for the metaphysics of science, you have essentially banished the gods from science. An inquiring mind interested in the material nature of the universe does not miss the gods when doing the math.

Of course, one does not need to delve into the metaphysical foundation of modern science to appreciate the beauty that remains after you have eliminated the gods. You can take Euclid’s Elements off the bookshelf, follow along with the definitions, postulates, and propositions and their proofs, and realize what a boon it is to eliminate the gods from your hypotheses.

Epicurus says this in the Principle Doctrines:

11. If apprehensions about the heavens and our fear lest death concern us, as well as our failure to realize the limits of pains and desires, did not bother us, we would have no need of natural science.

12. It is impossible for anyone to dispel his fear over the most important matters, if he does not know what is the nature of the universe but instead suspects something that happens in myth. Therefore, it is impossible to obtain unmitigated pleasure without natural science.

13. There is no benefit in securing protection from men if things above and beneath the earth and indeed all the limitless universe are made matters for suspicion.

I love this foggy morning and the drifting and dreaming that comes with it. I suppose I am overly fond of my hypotheses, but it helps compensate for lost love.

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